Git: Stashing Uncommitted Changes

Git: Stashing Uncommitted Changes

If you've been working with Git long enough, you've probably had times where you made changes to your codebase, but needed to switch branches or work with the latest working version of your code. However, you don't want to lose the changes you've made already, but they're not yet ready to commit the updates since they're not finished. What should you do?

Git Stash

Luckily, Git provides a mechanism to handle cases like this through the command git stash. The stash command takes the uncommitted changes in your working directory, both the updated tracked files and staged changes, and saves them.

Let's say you're working on a new feature and you made some modifications to your code, and you now have one or more files with uncommitted modifications:

$ git status
On branch master
Changes not staged for commit:
  (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
  (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)

    modified:   index.js

no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

However, the changes aren't finished, and you need to switch to a different branch to quickly fix a bug before continuing on with the current feature. To avoid losing the current updates you've made, you can just stash the changes instead and get them back later without messing up your commit history.

$ git stash
Saved working directory and index state WIP on master: bbf6ef9 Initial commit
HEAD is now at bbf6ef9 Initial commit

As you can see, HEAD is now back to our last commit, which in this case is the initial commit. To verify, look for changes using git status:

$ git status
On branch master
nothing to commit, working tree clean

We're back to where we started as if we never made the changes at all! Now you can go off and fix that bug.

But what about restoring your changes? To get them back, we can simply use the apply sub-command, which takes the last-stashed changes and puts them back into your working directory.

$ git stash apply
On branch master
Changes not staged for commit:
  (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
  (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)

    modified:   index.js

no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

And just like that, you have your changes back.

Advanced Features

In the examples above, we used stash in the simplest context. As we tend to find out in our day-to-day programming, real-world use-cases aren't usually that simple. What if, for example, you end up needing to stash changes from your working directory multiple times? Luckily, stash allows you to do just that. Technically, when you stash changes, Git puts the changes on a stack, which can then be pulled off in a LIFO (last in, first out) order. You're able to view this stack using the list subcommand.

$ git stash list
[email protected]{0}: WIP on master: 7513525 Fixed console output
[email protected]{1}: WIP on master: 91f33cc Fixed output punctuation
[email protected]{2}: WIP on master: bbf6ef9 Initial commit
[email protected]{3}: WIP on master: bbf6ef9 Initial commit

The stashed work at the top of the list is what you'll get when using the apply command without any extra arguments. If there is a different stash you'd like to get instead, you can specify it using the identifier at the beginning of each line. For example, to get the second stash, you would use the following:

$ git stash apply [email protected]{1}
On branch master
nothing to commit, working tree clean

You may notice that after using the apply subcommand, the stash will still be on the stack. In order to apply it and remove it from the stack, use pop instead.

$ git stash pop [email protected]{0}
On branch master
nothing to commit, working tree clean
Dropped [email protected]{0} (9079b4ffdf46574701cffcd68eb4feba80ebcf72)

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This stash is now no longer in our stack:

$ git stash list
[email protected]{0}: WIP on master: 91f33cc Fixed output punctuation
[email protected]{1}: WIP on master: bbf6ef9 Initial commit
[email protected]{2}: WIP on master: bbf6ef9 Initial commit

But what if you want to remove a stash without applying it to your current working directory? This can be achieved with drop, which works much like apply and pop syntactically:

$ git stash drop [email protected]{2}
Dropped [email protected]{2} (5483fdec3496572c8b943504b6029d45a7999453)

And, as expected, that stash was not applied and it is gone from the stash stack:

$ git status
On branch master
nothing to commit, working tree clean
$ git stash list
[email protected]{0}: WIP on master: 91f33cc Fixed output punctuation
[email protected]{1}: WIP on master: bbf6ef9 Initial commit

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, Git has a solution for most problems that arise in version control since it's been around for such a long time. Here we've seen how to handle the use-case where you have changes in your working directory, but you want to switch branches and not commit the unfinished changes. The stash command can be very powerful, and there are more features to it than what was covered here, like various flags that are available, which we'll save for another article.

Last Updated: June 15th, 2021
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